‘well what can you do? I’ve given up caring!’
– John’s life-philosophy, in St. Aubin, Jersey.
We awake at Pebble Bank caravan park in Wyke Regis, on the edge of Weymouth, overlooking the small island of Portland and the impressive formation of Chesil Beach in the distance. The caravan park is itself filled with silent, empty static caravans and motor homes, and the occasional grown-up biker with lambretta tattooed on a leg or a Harley tattoo on an arm pops in and utters a gruff hullo as I dress and brush my teeth in the loos. We head out early, hoping to catch the morning’s ferry to Jersey, and we’re joined along the interminable walk through amnesiac suburbia by the occasional schoolkid walking by. Most are being ferried to wherever in huge range rovers that’ve never seen a peaty bog or flooded ford. It’s dullness about us, of a safe and suburban kind that seems homely if a little dispiriting.
Further down the hill we pass Weymouth’s harbour, and cut along St Mary Street and down Custom Quay road towards the ferry port. Walking takes around two and a half times as long as cycling, but we reach the place on time. The cost of the ferries is very high, around £100 each for in effect a return journey and a one-hour crossing between Jersey and Guernsey. Pricey, eh! Given that these are tax haven states, and whose ferry company presumably also benefits from such low taxation,it’s a little frustrating, but not unexpected. This is a part of the world where they will refuse you tap water, remember, citing its cost. People are rich here without having ever sweated in their lives, unless you count that time they struggled to digest a third helping from the local chain pub’s Sunday carvery.
‘Do you want a chocolate bar?’ – weird conversation, weird men, weird pub, Weymouth.
It’s around 8.30 on a drizzly weekday morning. I zip open the thin coversheet and poke my head around to see where exactly I’ve landed. It’s the edge of a small chalet park on the edge of Lyme Regis. My tent’s at the edge of this park and beneath Lyme’s fossil-rich cliffs, and just about concealed from the confused eyes of retired pensioners by a series of fortunately-placed bushes. The weather’s damp and grey, matching my mood, hungover, a little worn out, but these September mornings are deceptive, threatening hell in the morning then brightening up by the afternoon.
I exit quickly, still undetected, and head down towards the sea. There’s a wide expanse of white and grey rocks that reflect the mood of the skies. A murky tide laps against them. Look hard enough, and you can find the remains of ammonites up to 200 million years old along this beach. Much of the coastline is older than ancient, some of it unchanged since the early Jurassic time, when a warm sea covered most of the British islands and massive ichthyosaurus and pliosaurus stalked the ocean. The name of this beach is Monmouth, after the Duke who landed here in 1685 and attempted to seize the throne from his estranged uncle, James II. Like almost every revolt preceding it from the rebellious, mysterious South West, the uprising was a total failure. Twelve of his supporters were hung on this beach, whilst it took eight blows of the axe to separate Monmouth’s head from his neck back in London. The beach is deserted. I look out to the placid sea, to the cliffs and fossils to my right, and the Cobb and Lyme to my left.